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W.Va. natives launch social justice documentary

By Staff | May 4, 2012

WELCH – Seven West Virginia natives-a mix of filmmakers, journalists, advocacy leaders, and cartographers-are jumpstarting a hybrid community participatory and interactive documentary called Hollow, which spotlights McDowell County and its residents.

To cover production costs, the group launched a campaign with Kickstarter, an online crowdfunding site, to raise $25,000, which includes workshop fees and the purchase of five cameras for participants. After production, the cameras will be donated to residents so the storytelling can continue-maintaining the project’s goal to create content for the community, by the community.

The project, set to launch online in May 2013, will combine personal documentary video portraits, user-generated content, photography, soundscapes, interactive data and grassroots mapping to highlight the ingenuity and spirit that keeps the community fighting.

“This project has great potential to become a place where the community can have a voice and share ideas for the future,” said project director Elaine McMillion, a 2009 West Virginia University graduate. “We hope that this interactive model can encourage trust among the community and empower them to work together for change.”

Over the years, national media has portrayed the people of Appalachia as one-dimensional characters in issue-driven films about mining disasters, poverty and drug abuse. On top of this, West Virginia has struggled with depopulation, losing 200,000 residents in the last 60 years. But McDowell County’s loss has been the most severe: nearly 80,000 people between 1950 and 2010. Today, the county still has a negative growth rate.

The project leaders of Hollow-including West Virginia natives McMillion; Tricia Fulks, of Shepherdstown; Megan Bowers; Eric Lovell; Jason Headley; Ry Rivard; and Michelle Miller – believe that this project is an opportunity to amplify the voices of Southern West Virginia.

“Films about our home state have not given residents a chance to speak but have instead used them to fit their categories of ‘hillbilly,’ ‘poor Appalachian,’ ‘ignorant coal miners’ or ‘radical environmentalist,'” McMillion said.

To combat these stereotypes and emphasize West Virginia’s potential for the future, members of the community will take part in the filmmaking process by creating 20 of the 50 short documentaries.

Community storytelling and participatory mapping workshops will be held in June and continue through August. Residents will have a chance to film their own content. The Hollow team believes that through interactive storytelling, the McDowell County residents will begin to see their community in a new light and will be empowered to work together and take control of their situation.

“Most of the thoughts and opinions of our state are formed by outside forces looking in,” said Headley, story director and Tyler County native. “A project like this gives us the opportunity to do the exact opposite: to let people see West Virginia from the perspective of the people who live here.”

If you are interested in participating in the project, would like more information or have questions, please contact Elaine McMillion at 304-545-6192 or elaine@hollowthefilm.com and visit hollowthefilm.com.

To donate to the project, visit the Kickstarter campaign at http://kck.st/Is5YBD.